'Twin Peaks' is back after 26 years, but it never really left these misty, moody towns
The logging town of Twin Peaks never really existed.
Like most settings of fictional television shows, the characters exist in spaces that are in part filmed on location and in part on a Hollywood lot. The influential 1990 TV drama "Twin Peaks," made by David Lynch and Mark Frost, which returns for a belated third season this week, is no different.
Last fall, I toured the Northwest with some friends, and decided to check in on several of the locations of one of my favorite TV shows. These locations were shot for the pilot, then redone for a soundstage in Los Angeles. This includes the waterfall that dominates the show's opening credits.
The bucolic exteriors of the Great Northern Hotel, where much of the series takes place, atop the iconic waterfall, were shot on-location in Snoqualmie, Washington, a short drive from Seattle. From the observation deck, the mist of the 268-foot tall Snoqualmie Falls lightly sprays your face. The interiors of the hotel, including the finely finished wood paneling and furniture, were shot an hour and a half away in Poulsbo, Washington.
I visit the actual Great Northern Hotel and find that in real life it is a spa. When I ask about "Twin Peaks" inside, a worker points to a stack of brochures. (The spa clearly gets asked about this a lot.) While some scenes were filmed in California, the brochure pointed to several other filming locations nearby.
My first stop in my unofficial tour is the Double R Diner, "Home of 'Twin Peaks' cherry pie."
Known to locals as Twede's Cafe, and set in North Bend, Washington, the diner is less than a 10-minute drive from the falls.
It was built, I find, in the early 1940s, amid a growing timber industry in the mountainous area. Loggers, hunters and other locals frequented the diner in the early morning hours until location scouts immortalized the area with one famous line: "You know, this is — excuse me — a damn fine cup o' coffee!" Agent Cooper says, after sampling some hot brew.
Cooper also gushes about the diner's pie.
Painted on one side of the decades-old building is a whole cherry pie, and another slice oozing filling alongside a steaming cup of joe.
The diner's current owner, Kyle Twede, though, downplays the star quality of its coffee, calling it "conversational."
"It's kind of a little bit weaker coffee that you sit around and talk with," he said.
But he is proud of the cherry pie, saying that the diner has been serving the same recipe for the last 12 years.
"I have never had a complaint," Twede says. (I don't either. It's damn good.)
The diner is also a burger joint. But I go ahead and order a short stack and, of course, some coffee and pie.
Beyond souvenir cups and T-shirts, there's also "Twin Peaks" memorabilia in the hallway by the restrooms, including photos of Lynch and the cast in the diner.
Twede said Frost and Lynch found the diner at a time when it was "pretty dark, pretty campy, pretty beat up." The walls and carpet were caked "tobacco brown" from decades of patrons smoking cigarettes inside, he said.
But Twede said he figured Frost and Lynch wanted a 1940s or 1950s time frame that the run-down diner — and the surrounding businesses — brought to mind.
"Nothing's ever been done in this town as far as restructuring the buildings. Nobody's going to spend the money to restructure them," Twede said. "That's kind of why I really think he picked it."
Once the show caught on with a national audience, the diner became an international tourist destination. For example, after a Japanese coffee company shot ads with the "Twin Peaks" cast, Twede said, the diner saw busloads of Japanese tourists come visit for five or six years afterward.
In 2000, the diner burned down. Following the fire, management reupholstered the diner's interior in red, white and blue decor. Local patrons began to appear more regularly.
But then, about two years ago, Twede received a call. It was Lynch again, who wanted to film a new season of "Twin Peaks."
The patriotic colors were quickly swapped back for the oranges and browns seen in the original "Twin Peaks." Twede said it took a production crew two days to gut the building and another five to rebuild it. They shot for a week at the diner.
With interest once again rising for the show, the remodeling is permanent. The diner stocked up on new Double R Diner mugs and other merchandise, anticipating a return of "Twin Peaks" fans.
Twede, by the way, is mum on details of the show.
At the diner, I buy a colorful, hand-drawn $2 map of the area to guide me to other show locations. The map lists 24 destinations, including the sheriff's station, Packard Mill, Ed's Gas Farm and a murder scene, which is the show's catalyst. It also includes several items associated with the show's characters: Laura's locket, James' motorcycle and Windom's chess set. Armed with a disposable camera, I set out to explore.
As a "Twin Peaks" fan, part of the joy of watching the show was how it crafted a mood. The unhurried establishing shots in the credits — the varied thrush perched on a branch, the mechanized insides of a lumber mill, the giant log — all introduce the audience to a small town steeped in Americana.
But shortly after a pair of ducks coast out of view at the end of the credits, the pilot, which aired on ABC in April 1990, juxtaposes the sequence of tranquility with sawmill manager Pete Martell discovering Laura Palmer's body washed up alongside a river.
"She's dead. Wrapped in plastic," he tells authorities over the phone.
Over the course of the show's first two seasons in the early 1990s, there are many "Lynchian" moments: shots that linger on stop lights gently swinging in the wind, close-ups of a ceiling fan above, a fascination with owls that hide in the cover of night.
"The owls are not what they seem," a character warns FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper, who's trying to solve Palmer's murder.
As I explore further, I realize that touring the "Twin Peaks" locations in the Northwest is to travel to towns whose populations are even smaller than the number — 51,201 — on the Twin Peaks welcome sign.
In fact, the 1991 promotional book "The Visitor's Guide to Twin Peaks" says the sign was a typo — drop the second "1." A population of 5,120 is closer to the size of any of the real-life Washington state towns of Snoqualmie, North Bend and Fall City.
The sign itself doesn't exist anymore in Snoqualmie. Finding the exact spot on the country road requires a little work, but there's a moment when Mount Si, the mountain that gives the show its name, towers in the distance, peeking through the ever-present fog.
A stone's throw from the scenic spot is Reinig Bridge. A bloodied friend of Palmer's, Ronette Pulaski, was seen shuffling across that bridge after witnessing the murder.
I bring all this up because, while the bend of a country road doesn't sound miraculous enough to merit a detour from Seattle or Mount Rainier, even here the mood Lynch created for the show is on full display. (We had also listened to the soundtrack in the car as we made pit stops for "Twin Peaks" locations.)
"Twin Peaks" was a perfect combination of vision and sound. If the "Twin Peaks Theme" in the opening credits lulled viewers into a rocking chair with its folksy iconography, the corpse of Laura Palmer in the following minutes introduced a key musical cue — "Laura Palmer's Theme" — that was often used as a foreboding presence.
In the short documentary, "Secrets From Another Place," composer and long-time collaborator Angelo Badalamenti described how Lynch visualized Twin Peaks as a setting. As Badalamenti retells it, Lynch gives the composer a stream-of-consciousness description of the mood the show ought to evoke.
"We're in a dark woods now, and there's a soft wind blowing through some sycamore trees, and there's a moon out, and there's some animals sounds in the background, and you can hear the hoot of an owl, and you're in the dark woods; just get me into that beautiful darkness with the soft wind," Badalamenti recounts Lynch as saying.
Badalamenti, relying on the minor keys, says Lynch asks him to slow it down, dirge-like. Badalamenti's piano then builds to brighter notes, as if Palmer herself is emerging from the woods. But before that feeling of innocence sets in, the notes fall back down, as if she is retreating back into the dark.
After more than two decades, when the show premiered, the road still feels untouched by human hands. The nearby power lines and trees seem to be the same as those shown when the pilot was shot. Very few cars pass while we stop to take photos. As a backdrop, the majesty of Mount Si can be felt as fog floats past its peak.
Then dread sets in. I crane my neck upward to check for owls. There are none.